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Ryan McDaniel
November 30, 2022

Zach Richardson, PharmD candidate ’25, discusses his Haliwa-Saponi culture and how it pushes him to excel as a Rural Health Scholar

Zach Richardson’s easy smile spreads across his face as he holds up the necklace he’s wearing. It is a tightly-packed line of dried corn kernels in various shades of yellow. “The corn necklaces are very important to the Haliwa-Saponi people,” he explains. “In 1968, the Haliwa school closed down, forcing native students to go to separate public schools. They were given corn necklaces to represent their togetherness spiritually even though they weren’t together physically, and to remind them of their school and culture.”

Zach, a 2025 PharmD candidate, is proud of his Haliwa-Saponi heritage. Growing up in Rocky Mount, NC he would often visit his extended family in Hollister, NC home to the Haliwa-Saponi tribal lands. Those visits instilled in him the love for his culture as well as a desire to improve health care in the rural setting. The small community of Hollister is close-knit, but faces barriers to care, being 30 minutes from the nearest clinics; as well as some historical mistrust of practitioners. “A lot of the people of my hometown haven’t had the best experiences with health care,” says Zach. “Some of their doctors and health care providers have kind of dismissed them. I want to fix that image for American Indian people – enable and empower them to seek care and not be afraid of it.”

He is well-positioned to realize this vision. Zach’s eyes light up when he talks about chemistry and biology – a passion inspired by his high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Holloman. Zach followed this passion to UNC for his undergraduate work, where he majored in chemistry and minored in Spanish. His minor took him abroad to Costa Rica for summer classes, which deepened his appreciation for cultural diversity.

Ahead of his first year at Carolina, Zach participated in UNC’s Summer Bridge Program, which included a tour of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. He found the people of the School welcoming and was excited by the work being done at the School. For winter break of Zach’s sophomore year he shadowed a clinical pharmacist in Rocky Mount, which solidified the idea of an education in pharmacy. “It was just amazing to see his clinical knowledge and how vast it was,” Zach recalls. “He was very sharp and very invested in what he was doing. I could see myself in his place in the future.”

After receiving the Frederick M. Lockwood First Year Scholarship in his PY1 year, Zach has taken on leadership roles at the School. He is the Asheville Liaison-Elect for the Student College of Clinical Pharmacy(SCCP) and will lead the Stroke Initiative with the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA). Zach is also pursuing his Rural Pharmacy Health Certificate so he can better serve the Haliwa-Saponi community.

As for his plans after graduating, Zach is certain he wants to help patients directly, but is keeping his options open. His experiences at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy have given him a wide array of paths to pursue. He is considering hospital or ambulatory care residency, but the first plan he mentions is returning to Hollister. “One major option for me is to go back to my hometown and my tribal lands to revive a clinic or pharmacy. Having a pharmacy so close to the people of my tribe would be so helpful to them. Leading a pharmacy…would be instrumental in developing relationships with that community. It would allow people to better trust in the system.”

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